Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright


Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright

What is copyright?

Copyright provides protection under federal laws for “original works of authorship.” Both published and unpublished works receive this protection. Under Section 106 of the Copyright Act‚ only the owner of the copyright has the power to authorize the following:

  • The reproduction of the original work;
  • The preparation of derivative works based upon the original work;
  • The distribution of copies of the original work;
  • The performance of the original work in a public setting;
  • The display of the original work in a public setting; and
  • The recording of the original work for public consumption.

The owner of a copyright is not granted absolute privilege over his or her copyrighted work. For example‚ Sections 107 through 120 of the Copyright Act specify limitations‚ such as “fair use” and a “compulsory license.”

Can I claim copyright for my original work?

You do not need to make any official filing for the work you have created in order for it to be copyrighted. Timely and proper registration of a copyright‚ however‚ is important to obtain the full protections offered under the Copyright Act including statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.

Ownership and authorship of a copyright can be modified by employment or other similar agreements. One such situation is known as a “work made for hire.” If an employee creates a work within the scope of his or her employment or is commissioned to contribute a work to a collective project that is copyrighted as a whole‚ then he or she may have relinquished the copyright of the work to the employer.

Is my original work protected by copyright laws?

An original work can be copyrighted as long as it is fixed in a tangible form of expression. A copyrightable work can fall under the following categories:

  1. Literary works‚ websites‚ and software programs;
  2. Musical works‚ including accompanying lyrics;
  3. Dramatic works‚ including accompanying music;
  4. Pantomimes and choreographic works;
  5. Pictorial‚ graphic‚ and sculptural works;
  6. Motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  7. Sound recordings; and
  8. Architectural works.

What is not copyrightable?

Not all material is copyrightable. An original work must be fixed in a tangible form of expression in order to be considered protected. For example‚ an improvisational speech must have been written or recorded in order to be copyrighted. Short phrases and works that do not have a minimum amount of originality also are not eligible for copyright protection.

What is a notice of copyright?

The copyright notice is optional for works first published on and after March 1‚ 1989‚ although it is highly recommended. It provides a copyright owner further protection from infringement since the notice explicitly states that the work is copyrighted‚ identifies the owner‚ and displays the year of first publication. This prevents any infringers from claiming “innocent infringement” in court‚ or that he or she was ignorant of the copyright.

A notice of copyright for visually perceptible works should incorporate all of the following components:

  1. The copyright symbol ©‚ or the word “Copyright” or its abbreviation;
  2. The year of the first publication of the work; and
  3. The name of the copyright’s owner.

How long does my copyright last?

The duration of a copyright can vary due to several factors but generally works created on or after January 1‚ 1978 last for 70 years after the death of the author.

Can I transfer my copyright?

Yes‚ you may transfer nonexclusive or exclusive rights to a copyright through a written agreement. Nonexclusive rights can be transferred without a written agreement.

Do I need a lawyer to copyright a work?

You do not necessarily need an copyright lawyer to copyright your work. However‚ it is advisable especially if the work is valuable. If you have a copyright issue and need legal assistance‚ please feel free to contact us.

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